There are plenty of reasons to be excited about Forza Horizon 3. For starters, it’s a sequel to the best Forza game yet (yeah I said it!). Second, it comes complete with four player cross-platform campaign co-op – “no ifs, no buts” says developer Playground Games – with all your progress transferred across to solo so you never have to do the same thing twice. Third, it’s set in ‘Straya, a land full of terrifying creatures that nonetheless is a pretty spectacular place.
Playground’s Ben Penrose is pretty keen to emphasise just how cool the new continent is. Apparently the dev team was inspired by the diversity of landscapes in Aussie, and cranked out a world that’s twice the size of that in Horizon 2 as a result. “We went around Australia and chose what we thought were all the best bits and combined them into a fantasy map of Australia that really serves the game and allows it to flow,” says Penrose. “So hopefully, people go around and are surprised by the things we put in.”
You’ll choose from a selection of more than 350 cars – and for the first time, buggies – then floor it through sand dunes, a rain forest, cities full of high rise buildings, rolling hills and more. Naturally, there are bogan-as utes from Holden and Ford available, including classics like the ’74 Sandman. “Australia is properly represented,” says Penrose.
That representation even stretches to the skies of the Lucky Country. The game’s sky box looks amazing, and that’s because it’s a genuine Aussie sky that Playground photographed with a custom built HDR rig. It doesn’t just look great, either: it powers Horizon 3’s detailed weather system. Clouds form as in the real world, a storm front builds from afar, and eventually, rain pours from the heavens. This water then influences everything as you’d expect, from the look of tarmac, metal, and carbon fibre, to vehicle handling. There’s also a full day/night cycle.
Early on, Playground Games decided that Horizon 3 would put the player in charge. This means you are now the boss of Horizon, and as such, you make decisions that shape the festival. You decide when to expand, where to place sites, which music will feature, and which event types you want to host. Should the expanded in-game music selection not do it for you, there’s also Groove Radio: simply upload your own MP3s into OneDrive and stream them directly into the game.
You’re also in charge of the ways you can challenge your friends. A new feature, Blueprints, allows you to create your own challenges simply by playing, then easily send them to friends. You can also customise these challenges by restricting car choice, changing routes, and more. What’s more, completing these challenges contributes to your overall progression through the game’s campaign. “It’s the biggest paradigm change since the series began,” says Penrose. “There’s virtually an infinite amount of play available.”
Bucket lists can also be customised and shared, with players able to select a bucket list’s car, livery, setup, music, title, and difficulty (by setting the benchmark themselves), before sending it to a friend as a direct challenge. That person can then pass it on to their friends, ensuring that the best bucket list challenges will go viral.
As boss, you can also hire and hire your friends – or their Drivatars, at least. Hiring skilled drivers for your festival gains you friends (the game’s currency, essentially), and at key points, you can go out into the world, find friend’s Drivatar, and bring them into your promotion. Your friend’s stats affect how valuable that Drivatar is, but you only have four slots, so if someone better comes along, you might need to show them the door. “It’s the most social Forza game ever, and most social racing game ever,” says Penrose.
Elsewhere, customisation has seen its biggest overhaul since Forza began. There are 30 new rim styles including designs from fifteen52 and Abd1, new parks, and for the first time you can choose a custom number plate, a wide body kit (the selection includes designs from Rocket Bunny and Liberty Walk), a custom horn sound (yes, novelty sounds are available), and even a driver character.
In addition, two features are returning: the auction house, where you can trade and sell cars player to player cross-platform; and cross-platform storefronts, where creators can show off work and gain notoriety. You‘ll be able to follow creators now too, and get notifications when they create something new.
The game’s cross-play functionality is certainly cool, but one question remains: will Xbox One drivers be at a disadvantage because they are locked at 30fps (in 1080p), but potentially racing against those on PC whose frame rate is only limited by the grunt of their rig? “We’ve done testing that shows that frame rate advantages between platforms are negligible,” says Penrose.
That goes against what Microsoft Studios general manager Shannon Loftis said about players on Xbox Scorpio playing those on Xbox One – that running multiplayer games at different frame rates "[would ruin] the competitive nature of it".
Either way, there’s a lot to be excited about in Horizon 3, even for a driver as terrible as I am. If you liked either of the first two in the spin-off series, it’s highly probable you’ll enjoy the third, and the new setting looks incredible. Bring on September.